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The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942

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By Robert Levin, '38

The Magpie, June 1937, v. 21, n. 2., p. 37.

With Europe a maelstrom of hatred and death, newspapers are constantly headlining the most recent outbreak or outrage, in each of the totalitarian states. In American classrooms, students, interested, ferret out the main stratagem involved in European political maneuvers, presuming upon the effect such stratagem will have. Yet, while the youth in America is observing history in the making, the youth of Europe is involved in these situations that will form the history text for future generations.

I have been fortunate enough to have had several experiences which contrast the attitudes of the younger generation in the United States, Spain and Italy. A stroke of luck enabled me to interview a neatly dressed, young Spanish lad who was just entering Clinton. The terrible import of his first words seemed incredible, and yet, with a tight grin hovering about his mouth, gesturing slightly, a bit excited, he explained, "I can not give you my name because I have still some of my family in Orense. I would not like anything to happen to them." Here, in America, that Spanish "joven" knew that his words could reach across an ocean and strike back at his helpless family in Orense, northwest Spain! Not only that, but Pedro, smilingly accepting that pseudonym, felt that discretion was a great deal wiser than oral defiance, even in the United States of America.

His slightly foreign, but decidedly vivid descriptions of war-torn Spain etched an unforgettable picture on my memory. Pedro's father had been forced to leave Spain when Fascist forces, under one Luis Solo, a subordinate of General Francisco Franco, seized power, banishing the governor. But the governor effected a "reconquista" by organizing a military unit in the nearby town of Puntovedra and returning to Orense, where he subdued the rebel forces. Luis Soto was shot.

Pedro saw Fascist soldiers shoot down two brothers whom he had known, and he also observed German troops and supplies passing through Orense on the way to the front. I saw Pedro early in March, when the Rebel and Loyalist forces were deadlocked in the struggle for Madrid, and Italian and German volunteers were pouring into Spain; still Pedro asserted that the Loyalists would emerge victorious in the Revolution. Besides presenting technical points to support his contention, he brought out a salient feature of the entire war when he remarked that "most of the people captured by Franco, and even his own soldiers, are at heart with the Loyalists. Franco knows that if he captures more provinces, and the soldiers find themselves in home territory, he won't be able to prevent them from deserting." Late March and early April witnessed headlined mutinies in the Rebel ranks. Pedro's claims were justified.

That history lesson was real, but more than that, Pedro's very expressions revealed the fact that the "joven" of Spain knows that it is making history and intends to make a history it can be proud of.

It may seem a far jump from Spain to Italy, and from active to subordinated youth, but the underlying principle, the effect of today's history on today's younger generation, is still present. In Italy, as in every totalitarian state ruled by despotic, power drunk dictators, the most terrible weapon used is the most subtle, because it is difficult to realize where the truth ceases and indoctrination originates. The most tragic result of this is the pugnacious attitude of youth. Quite some time ago, I received a letter from an Italian "gioventui," and it was then that I understood the extremity to which indoctrination has been established in Italy. Excerpts of the letter clearly reveal the "chip on the shoulder" attitude that this has created.

"I am now in 11th grade and this is my sixth year of Latin. The actual period of story (history) is very important for our nation, who, being struck by the envy of the European nations with, as chief, the selfish English people, shall thwart and fight against anything.

"Italian people has contributed to the final victory against Ethiopians giving all the gold, silver, iron that he had. My city has presented one gold ton, twenty silver tons, and one thousand iron tons. All Italian pupils have carried to school some iron and copper to make rifle bullets against Italy's enemies. We Italians are obliged to you Americans for your neutrality that gives a great contribute to Italian triumph. You must not believe to the idle stories that often newspapers will publish, because Italy has enemies in all the world. The Roman civility (population), is too great for being afraid of it and she continues his fatal way. I think I have perhaps bored you, but I wish you to know that all the Italian people think as I think."

The letter was signed "Reuzo," and it is not difficult to visualize Reuzo, with all his schoolmates, marching up and down, guns in their hands, and gas masks on their faces. The grim specter of "crosses, row on row" is once again predominant when, after learning of the instructions being drilled into the European youth of today, one's mind runs into the future.

And still another debit mark is inked upon the ledger of dictatorships when we observe the price the Russian people are paying for their advancement as a nation. The most terrible and the most subtle result of a system such as totalitarianism, existing in the U.S.S.R., is the mental sterilization of the youth of the nation. Like automatons, the "molodyezh" of Russia is destined to a life of regulations concerning every phase of his life, behaviour, education, dress, and thoughts. He merely exists as the most minute unit in Russian civilization.

Incredible as regulation of "thoughts" may seem, it is a fact. Imagination, the most splendid characteristic of youth, is harnessed by official censorship; the unruly, tempestuous spirit of youngsters is curbed in order to foster a sense of discipline necessary to control them in the next war.

And indoctrination plays no minor part in this system. From the picture book used in kindergartens to the most complex text used in universities, government propaganda is present in abundant quantities.

All this sums up to the one salient feature resulting from Russia's totalitarian attitude toward its youth. While a military education begins in grammar school, similar to the Italian system, the Russian lad is not quite so forward. Rather, he is a negative spirit; the "x" quantity among the youth of today.

Russian, Spaniard, Italian . . . The only hereditary difference is nationality. Meanwhile, American youth is studying the revolution that Spanish "joven" is dying in, while the Italian and Russian younger generations continue "their fatal way." Will American democracy and American schooling save America's youth?

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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